“Tell me something, little girl. What did your mother feed you for lunch today?”

Now & Then
Great Depression Division

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Subject: ‘Why does that kid walk so funny?’

“We bought some Vanilla Wafers the other day. One bite, and it brought back memories of the day I ate them for lunch when I was in the second grade.

“We had recently moved, and I was enrolled in a new elementary school. Mother was busy sewing costumes for my sister Raye and her tap-dance partner and completely lost track of time. So when I came barging in the door ready to eat, she gave me a dime and told me to run next door to the little grocery store and buy a bag of cookies for my lunch. That was back in the era when the grocer kept a lot of his merchandise in bins. I pointed out the cookies I wanted, handed him my money, and he scooped out a dime’s worth. I was a scrawny little kid, and I know now that he always gave me more than I paid for. At any rate I skipped on home, snarfed down my cookies and went back to school.

“When I came home that day, I excitedly told my mother that the school nurse had come around to each classroom, doing a survey. Mother asked me what she wanted to know, and I told her that she had asked each of us what we ate for lunch that day. Mom gasped and said: ‘You didn’t tell her, did you?’ Of course I did.

“The doorbell rang, and there stood the school nurse with a sack full of shoes. She smiled and welcomed us to the neighborhood. If she intended to ask about our eating habits, I am sure she was too distracted to remember. Mother was buzzing away at the sewing machine; Raye and her dancing partner were practicing their routine while Edith twirled her baton. It was just a normal afternoon at our house.

“The nurse sat down and pulled out a pair of used black patent-leather shoes from her sack and asked me to try them on. I really didn’t want to, because then she would see the cardboard in my shoes. Now, I really wasn’t embarrassed by this; I just didn’t think it was any of her business. All the kids I knew in the last neighborhood where we lived had worn cardboard in their shoes. It was the Depression. I figured most everybody wore cardboard in their shoes. Daddy regularly brought cardboard home and traced around our shoes and fitted in fresh cardboard. The last time he had done this, he was quite excited and hollered at all of us to ‘Come here, kids, and bring your shoes! Just look at this dandy cardboard I found!’ It was so thick and stiff, it was almost like plywood. When we walked, I’m sure it must have looked as though we were walking on snowshoes.

“Hmm, guess that explains why the school nurse brought me some new shoes. She was more concerned with my gait than with my gut.”

Gee, our old La Salle ran great!
Two-Letter Division

Papageno writes: “RE: Old phone exchanges.

“I can still remember the phone number that my mother drilled into my 5-year-old head almost 60 years ago: ‘MOntrose 5-1232’ (makes an easy-to-remember but not terribly secure password, BTW).

“I also had an alphanumeric address drilled into me: ‘2n330,’ because that area of the Chicago suburbs numbered houses with the number of miles north or south from North Avenue, followed by a house number.

“I can still remember standing in tears in the kitchen of my friend Marty’s house, trying to dial home to ask permission to stay for lunch, but getting nothing but a nasty beeping sound. Turns out this poor 5-year-old was dialing his address rather than his phone number.

“Speaking of dialing: I recently completed a video game (‘The Room 3’) in which one must dial an antique phone using one’s mouse. Now, for those of us of a certain age, this presents little difficulty: We click on the number and drag in a clockwise direction. And to give the younger generations credit, I’m sure that presented with an actual physical device, they might notice how the various components can be manipulated to produce the desired effect. But faced with an image of a dial telephone on a screen, and after clicking futilely on the numbers, apparently many users were at a loss as to how to proceed. So I was greatly amused when a walk-through site (yes, I needed a hint myself at one point) was obliged to offer a video on how to operate a dial telephone.”

Looking backward

The Divine Mum of Crocus Hill: “Subject: Turners Crossroad.

“My father-in-law is writing his memoir. He shared this passage with us today”:

“Because the barn was no longer being used, Mick turned the hay loft into a basketball court. The sloping sides of the barn roof severely hampered side shots but otherwise the space was playable for two-on-two games — or maybe for three-on-three games if the participants didn’t play too rough. There was one 250-watt lightbulb fixture fastened to the peak of the roof midway between the ends of the court. Over time, a large portion of the floor had been replaced piece by piece. That is, whenever one of the heavier players fell through one of the weaker boards, a newer board was quickly installed so as to not unnecessarily delay the game. That first ‘court’ lasted for two to three years until Mick and his friends outgrew it and the person who owned the farm, Mr. Paul Krueger, started to use the upper area as a hay loft again.

“The ‘court’ lay idle for two or three years, but by then it was time for me and my friends to resurrect it for our use. We pitched all the hay down to the lower portion of the barn, we installed new backboards and rims (bought by my friends), replaced the 250-watt bulb and we were ready to play! Mr. Krueger was very unhappy when he saw all the hay in the lower level of the barn but eventually he realized he wasn’t able to do anything about it. My friends and I spent a lot of time playing basketball in the barn the next two or three years. We would play year-around but much less frequently in the winter because we all played on the school team and had access to a real basketball facility. However, one winter, Donnie Lucier made a fast-break layup and couldn’t stop. He slammed into the slats we had nailed over the large wall opening originally used for putting in hay. The slats didn’t hold and Donnie fell about 10 to 12 feet, fortunately landing in a snow bank and was unhurt. We quickly re-nailed the slats and continued the game.

“The barn became a ‘magnet’ for kids from the area. Many times, parents would call and ask Mom to tell their son it was time to go home. On one occasion, a mother called to verify her son was in the barn but indicated to Mom she was going to send his dad to pick him up because they were running out of time to attend a scheduled event. An hour later the same mother called and wondered whether her husband had been there yet. Mom assured her that he had been there for quite some time but that he, and another father who was there, were also playing basketball . . . .”

Urban hardwood

Rec Center Basketball Coach’s Diary: The final entry.

“The City Game, St. Paul Style:

“My 13-year career coaching basketball in St. Paul’s youth recreation league ended today when my 14U Linwood team lost its playoff game.

“Rec league basketball is a slice of life in St. Paul. If a kid signs up at our local rec center and pays $35, that kid is on the team. There are no tryouts, there are no cuts, there is no pressure to win.

“There are usually not enough tall kids, but plenty of short kids. There are fast kids, slow kids, kids with special needs, kids who play well, and kids who have barely played before.

“But in rec basketball, they all play in every game. And they all get plenty of time to practice and scrimmage under fluorescent lights on a dusty floor at our rec center’s downstairs gym.

“Every season, I joined about 100 other volunteer parents for a Saturday-morning training session. All of us submitted to the same criminal background check and watched the same concussion-training video so we could be issued a coach’s badge.

“Most seasons, my team lost more than we won. Sometimes we lost by 50 or 60 points. One time we lost by one point when one of my players made a buzzer-beater layup — on the wrong basket.

“Sounds like a grind, but it always has been enough to get me through the cold and dark winter, and it’s a window to the city.

“It’s a joy to see the faces of kids from all across St. Paul and see throngs of parents cheering. The Phalen neighborhood has a rec center with a team. So does Hancock. So do Palace, Highland Park, Hillcrest, North Dale, West Minnehaha, Hazel Park, Edgcumbe, Groveland, Rice Street, Langford, Como, Duluth & Case, McDonough, Battle Creek, West Side Boosters, MLK, Jimmy Lee, East Side Salvation Army, and the School for the Deaf. We played them all over the years.

“It’s a joy to get to know the kids and parents who make up the team, and we almost always see someone familiar at the game. Our refs today were the high school JV baseball coach and Stevie Winfield (Dave’s big brother), whose grandson long played sports with our eldest. The opposing coach today was my son’s junior-high-school basketball coach. A friend came to the game. We saw and chatted with several people we know.

“It is also a joy to see the kids improve. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. This morning we played a team that had beaten us by 31 points in December. We came out like a house afire to lead 9-3, then 13-7, then 16-9, before the tide turned against us. The kids were proud to put the wood to a better team, if only for a while.

“I like basketball for the superstars and the graceful giants who play on TV as much as anyone, but that’s a show for money and — let’s be honest — we’re not a part of it.

“Rec basketball, however, is a game for fun for any kid who wants to play, and the whole snow-covered city is part of it.

“I will miss that.”

The Permanent Family Record

The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: Tasty apricots.

“That summer I was about 12 years old. It seems like only a fortnight ago. The ‘Governor’ (our father) took me and my brother, who was two years younger, out to the farm where we hunted squirrels and rabbits in the fall. Boys will be boys, and while the Governor was in the house talking and drinking coffee, we found ourselves climbing up an apricot tree which grew next to the machine shed that housed an old McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor.

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“Earlier that afternoon, we had climbed all over that tractor, which of course hadn’t been run in years. It didn’t start for us, but as far as we knew, it was in operating condition. We didn’t appreciate that then. But we sure got mighty dirty from the dust that had accumulated for the years while it sat there. Today I realize how difficult farming must have been back in the ’40s and ’50s, not that it is easy today. That old tractor could barely pull a two-bottom plow.

[BULLETIN BOARD INTERRUPTS: Check this out. Go, Bud!]

“Back to the apricot tree. We were pretty light then, and the tree’s small limbs held our weights until we reached the nearby roof. It was a metal roof with a fairly shallow slope to it and over time had acquired a frictional film, from sap and the elements, that made us quite stable. We weren’t much at risk of falling. And it wasn’t all that high, either. I pulled myself up first and helped my brother join me. Now that we were on the roof, the apricots seemed far more plentiful and easy to reach. We sat there and talked and ate more apricots than you could imagine. No, we didn’t get sick, but I remember that they were the best-tasting apricots ever. We sure never forgot that apricot tree or that old 10-20 tractor.

“I’ll never find apricots which taste that good again. I know that the quality of the fruit, its tenderness and juiciness, can be matched, but now that my brother is gone, I’ll never be able to share any apricot as tasty with him again.”

In memoriam

John in Highland: “I had never given much thought to the phrase ‘old soul.’ In a recent Pioneer Press ‘Remembering’ section,  two obituaries made use of it. One referred to the person as a beautiful old soul, and another said that the person was an old soul who was young at heart.

“A definition of ‘old soul’ says that it refers to someone with perception. Old souls have gifts that go beyond their body and their age.

“The obituary writers felt that their loved ones died too young. Sadly, isn’t that the case with all of us?”

Know thyself!

First, Al B of Hartland: “Far from home, I pulled into a convenience store for fuel. The pump had a TV showing the news. I appreciate a break from the world’s problems and loud commercials while pumping gas, so I pushed the mute button repeatedly, but the talking heads refused to stifle. I got my fill of the news long before my car’s tank was filled with gas.

“I wiped road salt off my bunion Buicks — my shoes. I had the time to do that because my hotel room wasn’t ready yet, because it wasn’t my room yet. If it had been my room, I’d have had it ready for me.

“The delay caused me to dig out a pen and a receipt. If I don’t have a notebook, I write things on newspapers, napkins, bookmarks, receipts, and anything else I can scribble upon. I’m a chronic note taker. I write things down. I’m not about to spend my time trying to remember things. I’ve got better things to do. Things like trying to remember what I wrote on and where I put it.”

And now Tim Torkildson: “Subject: Just sayin’ . . .

“At my age, I don’t know if I’m a work-in-progress or a demolition project.”

Age: Just a number?

LeoJEOSP: “Subject: Piano man.

“I had coffee with a couple of gentlemen today. I will be 65 this year, but one of the guys will be celebrating 74 years, and he is more active than some his age. He plays keyboard in a band which still performs live at Hubert’s in downtown Minneapolis. He also told us today that he was happy because he got a note-by-note transcription for Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’!

“Take that, AARP!”

Oopp’s!
Plus: Perchance, to dream . . . 

The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: (1) “Subject: Urination / defecation punctuation.

“I know there is a Bulletin Board category for the improper use of the apostrophe, but I’m wondering if there is also one for the sin of omission. [Bulletin Board says: Commission, omission — one and the same!]

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“If my research is correct, it is not included in the Braille, either.

“This was in an Allina Clinic in Woodbury, and the ‘other’ room omitted the apostrophe as well.

“The next time I visit, I’m taking a Sharpie along.”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Welcome to the Apostrophe Redistribution Force (ARF)!

(2) “Subject: A fantasy nightmare in my head.

“The scene is my primary physician’s examining room. The doctor is concerned and speaks to me in a serious tone: ‘Your test results show a below-normal glucose level, and your weight is about 25 pounds below normal for a man your age and size. Before your next visit, I want you to have a hot-fudge malt at least twice a week for the next year. More red meat will also aid in bringing your blood levels to the desired minimums. These current readings suggest a need to increase your blood pressure, so I’m recommending more of an indulgence in salty foods, especially snacks like pretzels, mixed nuts and chips. Listen to your body; if it feels lethargic, you should rest, nap or watch a movie on cable. Make sure that you are in are in a reclining chair that offers full-body support; a power recliner is probably the best choice.’

“It only became a nightmare when I woke up.”

Vanity, thy name is . . .

Friendly Bob of Fridley: “One of my Wisconsin nieces sent me this one: a Nissan Cube with the license plate C6H12O6. That would be a Sugar Cube.

“Yes, yes, I know: C6H12O6 is actually glucose. Common table sugar (sucrose) is C12H22O11.

“Still, pretty clever.”

CAUTION! Words at Play!

Semi-Legend writes: “Subject: InGENEious.

“The syndicated New York Times Sunday crossword for February 2, constructed by Victor Barocas, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, had as its thematic answer ‘GENESPLICING.’

“But the grid was a challenge in itself — and a challenge to describe. The letters GENE were circled and stepped, and linked an answer that began at, say, 26 Across with the tail of the answer, which ended three lines down at 42 Across. This also worked on a clue going down — at, say, 14 Down — where they would meet the same GENE sequence, and follow the trail three columns over, ending at 42 Down.

“OK. Perhaps not so clear. Imagine the Across answer as a sort-of-elongated letter Z, or perhaps a staircase, with letter G on the top landing, E and N on steps, and E at the bottom of the stairs.

“My annoyance dissolved with one set of brilliant intertwined answers:

“26 A: Ruling family of Edward I. Answer is ‘PlantaGENEts.’

“14 D: Romanian-born writer once in the French Academy. Answer: ‘EuGENEIonesco.’

“I’ve pasted in the grid, if that makes it easier to visualize.

“The PLANTAGENET/EUGENEIONESCO pair are at the upper-right GENE steps.”

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Our theater of seasons
Icicle Divison

Vertically Challenged reports: “There always seem to be some strange formations of icicles, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one do this.

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“It is sticking straight out from the eaves. It was not attached to that chain, as it appears to be.

“As the temp is now starting to rise, it just now fell as I was typing this. So I took this pic just in time!”

Our theater of seasons
Photography Division

Saturday, February 1st email from Mounds View Swede: “Our long stretch of gray days was tiresome. This morning, I was excited to see the sun again and how much more dramatic everything looked because of it. There were long shadows coming towards me.

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“And when the sun rose a little higher and hit our windows, they reflected light back across the snow so we had an intersection of light paths.

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“The fresh snow a week ago filled in all the animal tracks, so a new set was made from the house to the spruce tree. I still don’t know what animal makes this trail, or if it a one-way path or a two-way path.

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“As the sun rose, the shadows became more complex from the branches causing the shadows.

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“It was fun for me to watch the changes the sun was making.”

Later that same day: “The warmer weather we’ve been having has caused some of the icicles to fall to the rear deck. Today’s brighter day helped make everything sparkle a little more.

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“It looked as though the thawing and freezing was making a series of water droplets stuck together.

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“Some of the snow formed little puddles which froze in interesting patterns, too. A new sight for me to see.

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“One of the remaining icicles from the eave was very smooth, with lines running its length.

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“This icicle was bumpier and had a split end.

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“And this one was more bumpy and had a couple of nodules sticking out. And part of the icicle seemed clear and part opaque.

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“It’s fun and curious to note these differences.”

And on Groundhog Day Super Bowl Sunday: “The winter things I had been watching changed drastically during the night with the warm wind that came. All the icicles were gone. The snow on the deck railing was gone, too.

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“The buried tracks across the yard reappeared . . .

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“. . . and the hint of another set of tracks I had not noticed before appeared, too.

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“The hosta stems at the start of the latest pathway are much longer now with the melting snow revealing more of them.

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“Now, perhaps I will have some success with the icy stuff on the driveway!

“Happy 02/02/2020 everyone — a palindrome date.”

Come again?
Plus: The vision thing

Reported by Norton’s mom of Eau Claire, Wisconsin: “Subject: Grandma’s Day?

“Sometime during the last week of January, I heard our local weather people refer to ‘Grandma’s Day’ and saw those words printed on the upcoming Sunday on their calendar that showed the local weather predictions. I was mumbling and grumbling, a reflection of not only my age, but also the gray, sunless days we’d been having, about how we didn’t another made-up holiday for grandmas (‘Darn card manufacturers and their stupid holidays’), even though I am a grandma. I kept seeing and hearing ‘Grandma’s Day’ and did more grumbling. Norton’s dad just tuned me out, like he does much of the time.

“On perhaps Friday, I decided to look at our calendar on the wall to see what we had scheduled for the month of February and noticed February 2 . . . yes, Groundhog Day. Ohhhh . . . .well, never mind.

“Some people who have heard this story (confession) have suggested that perhaps I need hearing aids and an updated eyeglass prescription. I counter their silly suggestion about hearing aids by telling them that I can hear the very, very quiet beep from my Garmin step counter when I reach my goal for the day. At least I think it’s a very, very quiet beep. Hmmmmm.

“And even though I would have seen my shadow on Sunday, because the actual SUN was shining, I prefer to stick with Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring. Please, please, let him be right.”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: From Phil’s eyes to your mouth to God’s ears, ma’am. Our golf clubs are itching for some action already. One hundred days in!

The time machine

Donald: “Subject: Going back in time.

“During the February 1st edition of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ there was a commercial for a local exhibit which was to take place on January 24-26.

“Well, it was on ‘SNL.’”

Joy of Juxtaposition

The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Last week’s Bulletin Board included an entry in which I discussed the origin and explanation of the story of ’The blind men and the elephant.’ That evening, on the TV show ’New Amsterdam,’ Lauren Bloom, the head ER physician, and her staff were attempting to diagnose the illness of a patient. As Bloom was listening to her staff reciting the patient’s symptoms, she suddenly exclaimed: ‘He’s an elephant . . . .’

“The following dialogue ensued:

“Staff member: ‘I think I speak for a few of us here when I ask “How is he an elephant?”’

“Bloom: ‘Well, a bunch of blind people touching an elephant, when asked, will all say it’s something different. The person with the trunk will say it’s a snake; the person with a leg will say it’s a tree. Only by combining all these observations do we see it’s an elephant.’

“I won’t ruin the suspense by revealing whether or not the ‘elephant’s’ problem was diagnosed. Hint: Before the last commercial, he was sitting up, smiling, and requesting peanuts.”

Life as we know it

DebK of Rosemount: “Taxman and I have become objects of pity. Our Rice County neighbors shake their heads as they pass by, taking note of the (still) ongoing, ever-more-extensive repairs to the exterior of the farmhouse. They perhaps ‘feel our pain.’ Or they’re weary of seeing stacks of lumber and rolls of Tyvek and pallets of shingles piled in the driveway.

“It’s been a miserable and expensive ordeal, but it hasn’t been without its rewards.

“This morning — as I type this, in fact — two carpenters (blood brothers), neither educated beyond high school, are working outside my office window. As they piece together the front porch in 17-degree gloom, they are debating — really debating — whether St. John Paul II or St. Maximilian Kolbe will have greater impact on the future of humankind.

“At day’s end, the younger brother will perhaps come inside for a few minutes, allowing his hands to thaw before he sits down at our piano to play a little Mozart or Haydn — or one of his own compositions. The man is entirely self-taught, and he plays splendidly.

“It’s impossible not to admire these carpenters for their professional skills, their intellectual curiosity, their artistic gifts, and their laudable work ethic. I’m grateful for their example, but I’m even more thankful for their reminding me of a truth I learned when I was teaching: The world is teeming with geniuses. Many of them aren’t enrolled in accelerated or Advanced Placement classes. Lots of them don’t hold advanced degrees or any degree at all. And most of them never appear on cable-TV shows.”

Band Name of the Day: Demolition Project

Website of the Day, recommended by The Monkey Lover’s Wife of Northfield: “This is why we love Canada”: Takhini Hot Springs Hair Freezing Contest